Courtesy Kandis Draw
One moment in life can change everything. There were vivid images crossing my brain, unable to truly process what had happened to me. I was in the Emergency Room, with my mom, while she was in unbelievable pain. Unable to detect what was happening to her, they sent her for a CT scan, and we were awaiting results.
When the ER doctor on call signaled to me privately to the back, little did I know what news I would get. He told me, “You need to look at this.” Then he began to point at the screen, and I heard what sounded like a “faint” robotic voice, explaining what the scan read in technical terms. The doctor said with urgency in his voice, “Your mother has stage four ovarian cancer that has spread to her liver.” My eyes got big, and I grabbed onto the table, about to lose my balance. The nurse grabbed a nearby chair and made me sit down.
My response was, “What can we do? Are you guys sure? What are the next steps?” The doctor seemed skeptical, and said, “The outlook is grim.” Everything after that? A blur of phone calls to family.
There I was! Four months shy of my 30th birthday and life had given me a curveball in a mere instant. To put a spin on things, there were two siblings that I also had to look after once mom got sick.
My story isn’t that unique actually, because I am like many of the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who find themselves in a similar position of having to look after a loved one. That changed the next three-and-a-half years of my life. Not only was I an instant caregiver, I was an instant parent as well. This changed everything.
My mom and I had a challenging relationship in my adult years, and things would get pretty tense between us at times. Doctors’ visits, grocery shopping, medication logs, and then having to take kids back and forth to school, homework help, and their extracurricular activities kept me so busy my life became a blur. Even if you have several other siblings or family members, it can be virtually impossible to get everyone on board. So, you really feel forgotten.
You see your life, and sometimes even your career, dwindle away. Most working people do not have the luxury of caring for a loved one on a full-time basis and have a full-time job. So being a caregiver can cause serious financial strain on a person.
I was my mother’s caregiver for three-and-a-half years and, believe me, it was grueling. My faith was so tested during this time. I was very involved in my home church as a youth leader, but there were days that all I had was prayer and a good support system — friends I could vent to, and a God I could pray to. Sometimes, after checking on her at night and putting my siblings to bed, I would go into my room, get ready for bed, and cry because of the stress and emotional strain I would feel. My dad worked all the time, so I was brave during the day, but nearly broke down at night. Unfortunately, mistreatment is part of the caregiver life, because you have to be willing to serve without the expectation of getting anything in return. Isn't that what Jesus did?
But I kept going. I remember those difficult days when mom would cry because of the pain and the burden that her body was under. There always seemed to be a glimmer of hope on her tear-stained face as we battled together — holding her hand, reassuring her that we would get through it, and that I would help as much as I could. I say together, because a caregiver is down in the trenches with their loved one because of the countless hours and days spent together. Mom and I really bonded during her journey, and we would laugh about the silliest things! Other times, she would hug me out of nowhere, and lean on my shoulder during her rough days.
After spending a week at a cancer treatment facility, mom had a minor chemo procedure and met with the doctors. That same week, my little sister was admitted to the hospital as well. I was on the phone with one doctor about my sister’s situation and turned around to deal with my mom. Sometimes I felt this would never end!
Upon returning from the treatment facility, mom contracted a blood infection and was hospitalized for a week before her doctors talked to us about hospice options for her. When everyone had left, she grabbed my hand and said, “Kandi, everything is changing for me. I am proud of you, and I want you to be good to yourself. I made mistakes, and I'm sorry for how I treated you. I’m not perfect but be good to you. Look after the kids the best you can.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, because that’s all I wanted. She acknowledged all I had done! It’s like a load dropped off my shoulders. It meant everything to hear that! That was the last conversation we would have. Three days later, I got a call from the hospital saying that she had suffered a stroke and they were transferring her to ICU. Two days later, she passed away.
The Bible states: May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from His glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience (Colossians 1:11 GNT). That’s what caregiving is: sacrifice, endurance and patience.
If you are going through something similar, please be encouraged. Know that you're appreciated! Join a support group and seek professional help, if needed. You are not alone. God walks beside you every step of the way.
Kandis Draw is a member of Bolingbrook Church and was recently appointed as the 2020 Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance Advocacy Leader for the State of Illinois.